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If I Were Leader of the Free World...

Image: Optimist Club contest sponsor Stephen Toth (far left) poses with KDES students Juwan Blackwell, Shannon Thornhill,and Malita Bailey, who won first, second, and third place respectively in the 13-18 age category.

Optimist Club contest sponsor Stephen Toth (far left) poses with KDES students Juwan Blackwell, Shannon Thornhill,and Malita Bailey, who won first, second, and third place respectively in the 13-18 age category.

Image: Taode Ogden and Juwan Blackwell, first place winners in the 7-12 and 13-18 age categories, respectively

Taode Ogden and Juwan Blackwell, first place winners in the 7-12 and 13-18 age categories, respectively

The annual Optimist International Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCDHH) gives young deaf and hard of hearing students the opportunity to present their thoughts on a prearranged contest theme in a public forum. This year's contest theme was "If I Were Leader of the Free World, the First Issue I Would Address Would be ...." Students from Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) competed on February 18 and March 1 in a contest sponsored by the Optimist Sunrise and Noonday Clubs in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Arlington Optimist International Club in Virginia.

Some common themes emerged among the student essays, many being related to how leaders should provide people in need with a safe home, food, transportation, and education. As a leader, Taode Ogden, first place winner in the 7-12 category, "would like to see children become more energetic and come to school ready to learn. The way to do that is to make sure all children eat a good, healthy breakfast and lunch." Shannon Thornhill, second place winner in the 7-12 category, advocated for better government support for poor families and "to build a better community ... so everyone can have something they can be happy with, such as having a home, nice clothes, food, and most of all, support from others."

Juwan Blackwell, first place winner in the 13-18 category, said, "As a leader, I want to make sure all children of all ages, races, and gender receive a good quality education. They deserve that chance to make a better world and to become future leaders as well." Chanice Coles, second place winner in the 13-18 category, wants to be an active and giving leader. "We to need to give free housing to poor people. They need beds, bathrooms, and clothes. We need to give free hotel rooms to poor people because poor people do not have homes," she said.

Two representatives from the Noon Day Optimist Club, Stephen Toth and Robert McIntyre, helped officiate the contest. "I've been involved with the KDES contest for 15 years," said Toth. "It's a treat to come every year and meet the kids and to watch how students grow from the first years they enter the contest. They keep trying and eventually become winners. I really admire their communication skills."

The students compete in two age categories, 7-12 and 13-18. For the contest, students make a four- to five-minute presentation before a panel of judges and a live audience. The contestants are scored on their poise, the content of their speech, delivery and presentation, and overall effectiveness. The contest helps students develop the confidence to present themselves before a public audience.

This year's KDES winners were:

7- to 12-year-old category

1st place - Taode Odgen
2nd place - Chanice Coles
3rd place - Niqua Gray

13- to 18-year-old category

1st place - Juwan Blackwell
2nd place - Shannon Thornhill
3rd place - Malita Bailey.

As first place winners, Odgen and Blackwell will be eligible to compete in the regional CCDHH to be held in Richmond, Virginia, on March 12. The top winners in each age category will receive a $2,500 college scholarship from Optimist International.

The CCDHH originated 25 years ago when David Leekoff, a dentist who was a member of Optimist International, wanted to set up a version of the Optimist oratorical contest that would be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing children like his own son, Mark.

For more information on the contest